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Stemming the Tide of Time and Saving Murals at Midway

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These murals decorated the walls of the theater on Midway Island. Photo credit: Joseph Van Os

For the first time in over 60 years, a piece of Midway Island will be viewable by the general public. 

In a major historic preservation effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, six wall-sized original paintings that formerly hung in a World War II-era theater on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, arrived by ship in Honolulu, HI on July 10, 2013. The murals will be on loan to the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, preserving and making them available for the public to enjoy for the first time in their history.

“Being a Navy veteran myself, I am excited they will be in a venue at Pearl Harbor that tells the story of World War II in the Pacific.  Now, thousands of people will be able to enjoy the murals each year,” said Refuge manager Sue Schulmeister.

The eight by twelve-foot murals depict scenes symbolic of U.S. involvement in World War II and covered the walls in the theater on the island.  They were painted by Victor Nels Solander,123rd U.S. Naval Construction Battalion, who’s Seabee unit was stationed on Midway from June 1, 1944 to December 16, 1945. 

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Victor Nels Solander and one of the murals. 

 “As I watched the increasing deterioration of the theater walls and ceiling in the few years that I have lived here – I knew we would soon lose these beautiful paintings if we could not relocate them to a more stable environment, said Schulmeister. “Extracting the eight by twelve foot murals from the walls of the theater was a herculean effort on a remote island with few resources. To carefully preserve the original artwork took a year of research and planning with input from Service historians, engineers and the few staff at hand.”

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The murals being removed from the theater. Photo credit: D. Evans/DBSI

“The history of World War II is written not just in words but in images. And that includes artwork that was painted in the far flung outposts of the war. These need to be preserved for future generations,” notes Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor curator, Burl Burlingame.

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Preparing a mural in the theatre to be moved from Midway Atoll NWR to Honolulu, HI. Photo credit: USFWS

The murals will enhance the museum’s current Battle of Midway exhibits and be readied as soon as possible for viewing by the public.

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Protecting the murals for transport. Photo credit: USFWS

Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge is located approximately 1,150 nautical miles northwest of Honolulu in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

Considered one of most pivotal naval battles in the world, Midway was command central for the Battle of Midway in World War II. To honor the sacrifice and courage of the men who fought in this battle, Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge was designated the Battle of Midway National Memorial by DOI Secretarial Order 3217 in 2000. The Service honors the rich military and cultural history of Midway Atoll, while focusing on its mission of conserving wildlife for the continuing and future benefit of the American people.

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The theater at Midway Island.  

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